I’ve never been normal. Thank goodness.
From an early age, it was clear that I didn’t fit in with the usual crowd. I talked differently, dressed differently, and acted in my own way.
To many others, however, I seemed to be too much of something—too noisy; too energetic; too talkative; too silly. And throughout the years, I have been called many things: Problematic; Delinquent; Weirdo; Nonconformist; Misfit; Crazy; [you-insert-any-nontraditional-adjective-here].
In 1982, CBS premiered Square Pegs—a sitcom starring a young Sarah Jessica Parker that featured an eclectic group of high school freshmen desperately trying to fit in. One character, Johnny Slash (Merritt Butrick) considered himself “new wave” and marched to the beat of his own drum. I identified mostly with him.
Like Johnny, I was also a square peg.
Sometimes being different was painful, but mostly I didn’t mind. Why? Because I believed that my differences were my strengths.
And now that I look back on it, I have built an entire life—and business—from being different.
In third grade, my teacher put my desk behind a screen in the back of the room to keep me from disturbing the other kids. And even though I was separated from the rest of the class, I made the best of it. Instead of being sad, I created my own office—and my inner entrepreneur was born.
In high school, I volunteered to be a Rotary foreign exchange student in Helsinki, Finland. And even though I was away from my family and friends for an entire year, I learned about a totally different culture, language, and lifestyle.
In college, I became a Big Ten football and basketball cheerleader, captain, and coach. And even though I wasn’t a star athlete playing on the field or court, I got to motivate the players and engage with the fans and media.
In my 30s, I had moved from snowy Minnesota to tropical Hawaii where I lived for 10 years. And even though I was (once again) far from home, I was creating another family [ohana] and learning to appreciate the Hawaiian people and their culture.
In my 40s, I took an expatriate assignment in Bangalore, India, leading global training and learning development for a Fortune 25 corporation. And even though I was (once again) far from home, I was exploring the other side of the planet and actively absorbing Indian customs and incredible people.
After corporate, I focused on my inner artist, photographer, and author—and started publishing a series of books about life lessons learned from years of traveling and living in the world. And even though I didn’t know how to write a book at first, I now have six published books including three best sellers.
Working with technology start-ups, I’ve had the privilege to help create products and services from scratch. And even though I’ve been laid off two times in three years, I’ve been proud of the things that I’ve created and can now help others navigate through their career transitions.
Having my own business, I spend my time and energy doing what I do best: Not fitting in. And even though there are days when I have doubts, I continue to follow the intuitive nudges that keep me supporting and serving others through sharing my stories and experiences.
So what has been my biggest success factor so far? Relentless optimism—my ability to reframe any situation into something positive—a skill that my parents taught me at a very young age.
- Having my desk moved to the back of the room helped me focus my energy.
- Moving to Finland opened my mind to a new world of possibilities.
- Being a cheerleader reinforced my purpose to motivate and inspire others.
- Living in Hawaii introduced me to my quiet and intuitive inner being.
- Living in India taught me how to see beauty and inspiration in everything.
- Writing and speaking reinforced my purpose to support and encourage others.
- Being laid off gave me a heart for others in career transition.
When we look back on our lives and start connecting the dots, we will notice patterns that have created the person we are today, patterns that give us our unique purpose. And we are also reminded that we are talented co-creators with the Universe, creating our experience and giving our lives meaning.
So when I look back on my short life so far, I can see clearly now that “not fitting in” was the best thing that’s ever happened to me.
Michael Thomas Sunnarborg is a career coach, author, and founder of The White Box Club™—FREE meetings and resources for people in career transition. Learn more at michaelcreative.com
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